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When thinking about treatment and recovery, it’s important to remember that addiction is a disease.
Like other chronic diseases, an individualized medical care plan is essential, and not everyone’s plan will look the same. When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, for example, the medical team works with the patient to develop a treatment plan that is right for him or her based on the stage of the disease, family history, and what their daily life is like.
Treatment counteracts addiction’s disruptive effects on a person’s brain and behavior and enables them to heal and regain control of their life. Similar to how a course of chemotherapy or radiation is designed to treat the acute condition of cancer, addiction treatment often lasts for a certain amount of time; based on the severity level of the disorder, this may last months or years. Recovery, on the other hand, is an ongoing process to enhance life and prevent recurrence of the disease. Recovery is a journey— different for each person— that often begins with addiction treatment but lasts well after the treatment period is over.
Types of Treatment
There are a wide variety of evidence-based approaches for treating a substance use disorder (SUD), including behavioral therapies and medications.
Because they address different aspects of SUDs, the combination of behavioral therapies and medications tend to be more effective than either approach used alone.
Of these evidence-based approaches, there is no “one-size-fits-all” option. Treatment plans should be tailored to the unique needs of the patient by their care provider and will vary depending on the types of substances used, any co-occurring health conditions, and the severity of their illness.
Types of treatment include:
Partial Hospitalization Programs
Intensive Outpatient Programs
Detoxification (this should always be followed by ongoing treatment)
Opioid Treatment Programs
Office-Based Opioid Treatment
Early Intervention is Key
Given the long-lasting effects of substances on the developing brain, it is critical to address substance use as early as possible. Most adults who develop a SUD started using substances before the age of 18. Risky behaviors that lead to substance use can also affect family bonding, positive peer relationships and school performance.
Length of Treatment
Like other medical conditions, substance use disorder (SUD) treatment must be strong enough and long enough to effectively treat the disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA) uses the analogy of a bacterial infection, which requires antibiotics taken at a high enough dose and for a long enough period of time to kill all the bacteria. This means that patients might need to continue taking medication even after their symptoms are gone—otherwise the infection might come back and be harder to fight.
The same is true of SUDs. Insufficient treatment increases the risk that adolescents will return to substance use, leading them to feel hopeless about their condition and the benefits of treatment. This cycle into and out of treatment also might bias those supporting adolescents—friends, family members or the referring juvenile justice system, against further investing in these programs.
Research has shown that the longer a patient receives treatment, the better the chance of long-term recovery. Ongoing monitoring and wrap-around recovery services ensure that a patient can be re-engaged with treatment should symptoms return.